Spectre Reviewed: Should You Bother With Bond?
Let’s face it, you already know the answer to the question above. You know exactly what you’re in for and you know full well whether you’re the sort of person who’ll enjoy this 24th outing for 007, which is called Spectre (in case you hadn’t noticed).
“I've been here before,” intones Sam Smith on the opening song, sounding so bored he might just keel over. We all have Sam, now play it again.
And yup: there's running around, a car chase, some punch-ups, a brief pause to help a woman with that tricky zip at the back. If that’s what you like then you’re well catered for here, but if you were hoping for something fresh, some new ideas perhaps, or a logical story that does more than simply get our hangdog superspy from set-piece to set-piece — don't expect anything other than the utterly expected.
The problem is that even taken as a machine-tooled bit of product, Spectre doesn't work. It’s three years since the last Bond film so there really should be no excuses for such threadbare plotting. The last one, Skyfall, was enjoyably odd with Daniel Craig’s disgraced James Bond forced to protect Judi Dench’s M and deal with his inner mummy issues. There’s nothing so engaging this time round: he’s basically tracking down the people behind M’s death and, oh go on then, everything else that ever goes wrong in the world.
The notion of a shadowy cabal is taken very literally indeed at a meet-up in Rome where no-one bothers to turn on the lights. It’s about as po-faced and preposterous as the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut — the first of many silly choices by overly-earnest director Sam Mendes. From the shadows we then meet a brainy villain (the stilted Christoph Waltz) who sends out a brawny villain (the monosyllabic Dave Bautista) to chase Bond about. While avoiding these two, our hero hops into bed with Monica Bellucci and then Léa Seydoux — who play exactly the same character.
There is one twist in the tale but not only is it ridiculous and irrelevant, it’s also so well signposted that we saw it coming back in July (proof here, though be warned it is a spoiler).
And honestly, apart from a handsomely-mounted opening sequence set during Mexico’s Day of the Dead and an amusing aside when Bond interrogates a mouse, there’s precious little fun to be had. Turgid seriousness drains the film of energy and there's no sparkle to the dialogue to compensate. The best attempt at a Roger Moore style humdinger is “Time flies!” said as an exploding watch is dispatched. Quick note to the writers here: he has to throw the watch rather than slide it across the floor for that gag to make sense — doh!
There are continual references to hot topics like drones, homeland security and nanotechnology, but Spectre really pertains to nothing in the real world. Some may argue it doesn't need to and that it’s all just fantasy, but this is probably the chief reason that the whole enterprise feels airless rather than timeless.
The film’s use of London is similarly devil may care. Landmarks are rearranged strangely, so City Hall’s very distinctive interior is made to double up as a massive new data farm in Millbank: "George Orwell's worst nightmare" apparently. Meanwhile, the MI6 building in Vauxhall is introduced as a decaying shell (though oddly sans squatters); the fact that someone has bothered to erect a massive piece of bulletproof glass inside is just the final mystery in a sprawling labyrinth of piffle.
The strangest use of a London location however is the Thames itself, which is supposed to secretly transport spies via speedboat to a massively-conspicuous secret tunnel that leads to Q’s secret workshop. No wonder Spectre found it so easy to infiltrate the British Secret Service and ruin Bond’s life. Not that the baddie's lair is much better: it resembles a semi-deflated Yorkshire pudding out in the desert and is conveniently made up of incredibly explosive fuel silos (oops).
The plodding pace means you have far too long to contemplate all these flaws as well as basic problems with the filmmaking: poor dubbing, clumsy editing, focus issues, not to mention a disastrous score that forgets to feature the great themes of John Barry (why?). Even the credit sequence is a stinker: imagine a Lynx advert starring Cthulhu.
The rich cinematography of Skyfall is also gone; Hoyte van Hoytema is no match for Roger Deakins and smothers every location in the same glum ochre light. It does add a touch of The Godfather to the scenes set in Italy but elsewhere becomes a mulchy beige that clashes with the hideously bourgeois costumes (Bond dresses like Alan Partridge right down to the driving gloves, while Waltz looks like he's borrowed his outfit from at least three other supervillains).
Elsewhere, Ralph Fiennes looks confused as the new M. And why wouldn’t he when he has to try to make sense of lines like “a license to kill is also a license not to kill” — wait, what? The potential for a quirky new dynamic with Craig in the wake of the fine work by Judi Dench over the last few films is wasted and M ends up having to spar with Andrew Scott’s sorely underwritten C instead.
Ben Whishaw fares better as Q but just wait until you see him in the brilliant upcoming BBC drama London Spy. You’ll be egging him on to make his move on Bond (pleaaase, in the next one, just a little kiss — it would be so good).
Craig is fine but he looks like he’s had enough, the humourless performance of a man trying to see out his contract and keep his dignity intact. No one could accuse him of not trying, but as the characters around him have been saying since his debut in Casino Royale, retirement is long overdue.
We hate to end on a smarmy diacope, but heck we’re going to do it anyway... boring, James, boring.
Spectre is in cinemas now.
Last Updated 28 October 2015